Raising The Roof: Many of America’s iconic cars became famous as a result of their convertible lineups

A hit when introduced in 1990, the Mazda Miata (now MX-5 Miata) convertible continues to attract new drivers as well as collectors (Provided).

Mustang. Corvette. Camaro. Miata. 911. Z.

Other than creating a hacker-resistant password (long, with a mix of letters and numbers), these nicknames share one thing: they signify legendary automobiles.

Ford’s Mustang burst on the scene in 1964 and remains the awe-inspiring “pony car.” The Corvette builds huge followings with each design change. Another Chevrolet, the Camaro, stands as the signature muscle car. Mazda broke out with the Miata, a Japanese sensation that made European-style sports cars affordable. Porsche’s top-of-the-line 911 defines classic. And Datsun, now Nissan, revolutionized Asian speed with the 240Z and succeeding editions.

Yet these half dozen icons — and scores more — possess another less obvious but nonetheless hair-raising connection. They all can be taken for a ride with the top down.

As automotive shooting stars, the vehicles boast convertibles in their lineups either as their base design or an option.

Convertibles have faced ups and downs in the public eye over the past decades but continue to prove popular as the ultimate open road escape vehicle.

Online auto information company Edmunds.com lists more than 65 new-model soft tops, priced from $17,890 for a smart fortwo and $19,600 for a Fiat 500 to $469,900 for a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe.

The Volkswagen new Beetle showcases a convertible version. So does the Mini Cooper, Chrysler 200, Audi TT, Volvo C70 and the ubiquitous BMW 3-Series. Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Infiniti all tout models with retractable roofs. The off-roading Jeep Wrangler, meanwhile, boasts a removable top.

While convertibles are specialty cars that would hardly be mistaken for people movers, they’re aren’t one trick ponies, either. According to the Edmunds.com website, 20 percent of convertibles tout all-wheel-drive, more than 40 percent boast DVD players and three-quarters post fuel mileage numbers above 20 mpg.

Charleston area car dealerships carry dozens of convertibles of various manners and price ranges; It’s only a few ultra-luxury carmakers don’t sell new models here.

Technological advancements have assisted convertibles in recent years. Hydraulic and electronic systems now can raise and lower convertible hardtops in 30 seconds or less. Meanwhile, audio tuners are available that can automatically adjust volumes upward or downward depending on the wind noise level.

The history of the convertible dates to the earliest cars; in fact, all cars were open until the first closed-bodied vehicles were manufactured by Cadillac and then Dodge in the 1910s. By the 1920s, most cars were closed-in hardtops. The roaring ’20s brought the onset of high-end convertibles for the rich and famous. A major breakthrough came in 1939 when Plymouth introduced a power convertible top motored by pneumatic cylinders.

While buzzworthy through the 1950s and 1960s, convertibles steadily lost market share. Worried about rising gas prices, motorists bought fuel efficient compacts. New-model convertibles nearly disappeared by the mid-1970s. But a brightening economy and technological enhancements in the 1980s popularized the convertible once again as models became practical and fun to drive.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.